Three Days in Athens off the Beaten Path
(note: this blog was updated in 2019)
Our First Day on the Beaten Path
When visiting Athens, you should plan at least a week. We only had three days. We filled it with typical things to do on the first day, then a bomb and a strike diverted us off the beaten path to a world of adventure we hadn’t planned. In the aftermath, I wouldn’t have done it any other way.
Goddess Siren Snagged Us
We didn’t get 100 meters until the first store called us in like the goddess, Siren. We dropped $100 before our minds could blink. Greece is loaded with interesting and affordable souvenirs, and the city symbol is an owl, after the goddess, Athena. Steve collects owls, so I am going to blame him for sucking us into the store. I left with scarves, pottery, glass….and it was the first store. I can’t believe I didn’t follow my cardinal rule of not buying in the first shop. But it worked out great, and I love everything I got. We quickly returned to our Airbnb to drop our treasures, then regrouped to head out again.
We made it to the Acropolis where the Temple to Athena and the Parthenon remain. I’m a bit cynical about taking pics of Greek ruins….once you’ve seen one you’ve seen them all. It reminds me of all the pics people take of European churches. It’s not that I don’t appreciate the age and beauty; rather I get quite engrossed in understanding the time continuum of history, and the artifacts help illustrate for me.
Was it Greeks before Romans? Romans before Israelis? Alas, tenth grade world history comes alive–that’s what I love about traveling. Despite my cynicism, though, I took hundreds of pictures of the ruins.
We made our way through the Acropolis, stopping at famous sites that all the tour books will tell you to go. I won’t enumerate here, but I will say the best way to do Athens is to get out of the cabs and walk. Don’t fear the metro, make mistakes and get lost. Every corner has a surprise. Every corner has delicious food (feta! olives! eggplant!). Every corner invites a history or cultural lesson.
My daughter loves the Greek gods, and a visit to the Temple of Athena was a must. The entire Acropolis area, including the Parthenon and the Temple of Athena, are currently under restoration. It’s amazing to think about the Greek responsibility to this world-class cradle of democracy. Despite the pressure, the Greeks are gingerly and responsibly doing a fantastic job restoring these important pieces of world history.
Due to the roughness of the walk ways, be sure to wear sturdy, closed-toe shoes and also bring lots of water.
From the top of the Acropolis, be prepared for amazing Athenian views. Across the city is the Temple of Zeus, which even from a distance, strikes quite a powerful visit in size and statue. Later that night, we watched a marathon run around the Temple on the way out of the city. The runners sported head lamps and were participating in a traditional marathon–which corresponds to Greece’s history of founding the original marathon, which started in, you guessed it, Marathon, Greece.
Tired and Fed
We ate along the way, grabbing roadside snacks and such. Our first day in Athens blew us away with history, sites and food. For the second day, we planned to go to the Greek island, Aegina…and that plan got totally derailed.
Day 2 in Athens. Bombs and Strikes
Noise. That’s the first thing we noticed about Athens. Whether it was the groups of spring breakers, the couples on the plane, or the constant sound of protestors just a kilometer away, noise is the running theme. So for our second day in Athens, we decided to get away from it all and head out to the Greek isles. It was our attempt to survive bombs and strikes in Athens.
We headed to the subway stop near our AirBnB, which is also the stop for Parliament, only to find it closed and blocked by armed policemen with gas masks and riot gear. We could hear the protestors about 1km away, and we decided to walk to the safe subway stop that one of the riot cops recommended. Yet, despite our best attempts to avoid the protestors, we ended up smack in the middle of them. With hearts racing, and Kelly a bit anxious, we snuck pictures yet stayed quiet. Since we didn’t know why the Greeks were protesting, I thought it best to keep our American mouths shut and not create targets. (Sorry for the quality of pics. I was trying to shoot, walk, and not draw attention.)
First a Protest, then a Strike!
Our subway ride took us on a journey for about 30 minutes. We made it to the subway to Pireous, the ancient port of Athens. All the boats and ferries were docked…and not going anywhere. The entire country was on strike, and nothing was moving, not even the tourist ferries. Alas, we made lemonade with our Greek lemons and did our own walking tour of Pireous. We jiggediIn and out of tiny alleys, enjoyed shops displaying their homegrown herbs, and sniffed delicious smells that wafted through the air.
After enjoying Pireous, we did a bit more shopping then headed home. We discovered the reason for the strike. Most of the protesters were government employees who were raging against the fact that they are only being paid about 75% of their agreed upon wages. The EU’s version of “Austerity” had kicked in, and the balance of their wages, they believed, is going to pay down their debt to Germany. They want their money back!
Bombs! The Third Day
The next morning on our third day, I swore I felt an earthquake. I soon found out it was a car bomb only eight blocks away. A radical group of Greeks was protesting Germany’s Prime Minister Merkel’s visit. The bomb was not intended to hurt anyone, just to protest the financial situation of Greece and its relationship to Germany. It was planted outside of the Bank of Greece. Regardless, although our location was prime to everything touristy, it was also in the heart of all Greece’s turmoil. We felt a renewed attempt to escape Athens.
The island of Aegina had merit. So off we went to Port Piraeus again.
Biking Aegina for the Day
We jumped on the ferry to join 250 spring breaking, 16-year old girls. 90 long minutes later, we arrived on the small local island of Aegina. We had no plans, and the one block of “town” quickly became uninteresting. Thus, we grabbed some bikes for a few euros and headed out to the sites.
The bike salesman was just that–-a salesman! He said it was a beautiful 10 km ride to all the sites and no hills. Haha. After 15 km straight up on bikes where the low gears didn’t work, and 5 km downhill with squeaky brakes, we actually thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. Although not Santorini, we found blue and white churches, abbeys on tops of hills, and wonderful olive groves and vineyards.
The rain came and went throughout the day, but the warm Grecian sun was enough to dry us off just in time for the next shower. We biked the entire island, it seemed, then ended up at a quite fishing village. Lunch of fresh calamari and olives punctuated by fresh tomatoes filled our bellies before our last leg of this unexpectedly long bike ride. But it was worth it! Despite rain, hunger, and thirst, we saw some of the best sites ever, and we successfully figured out how to survive bombs and strikes in Athens.